August 7-23, 2009
By Indradyumna Swami
After the Woodstock festival we went back to our programs on the Baltic Sea coast. We were exhausted but determined to make it through the last seventeen days of our tour. There might be some austerities, but the satisfaction of sharing Krsna consciousness with thousands of people would far outweigh any discomfort.
As I was waking up the morning after our return, Jayatam das called me on my cell-phone.
“Did I wake you?” he said.
“It’s OK,” I said struggling to bring myself to full consciousness.
“Late last night I got a call from the National Police,” Jayatam said.
I immediately sat up and came to my senses. It was the National Police who raided our school base the previous month looking for narcotics.
“What is it now?” I said.
Jayatam laughed. “Don’t worry, Srila Gurudeva,” he said. “They want our help. They arrested a man from Nepal who entered the country illegally to sell diamonds. He speaks Hindi, and they were asking if they could use one of our devotees from India to translate for him. If it comes to a court case they’ll pay us for the translator’s work in court.”
“That’s terrific,” I said.
“Of course, I agreed,” said Jayatam, “and they’re very grateful for our help.”
“Any time,” I said with a chuckle.
The weather was perfect, and the last few festivals went well. But throughout them all, I was thinking of our finale in Kolobrzeg. Somehow Nandini dasi had gotten the city authorities to agree to a second festival on the prestigious boardwalk by the beach. The three-day event in late August would happen on the final weekend of the summer, just before the vacationers headed home.
When we started harinama on the beach at Kolobrzeg, everyone waved and some people cheered. I turned to Gaura Hari das. “It’s almost too good to be true,” I said. “This is a conservative town with many older people. We always run into some sort of opposition when putting on festivals here.”
Just then one of our women came running over to me. “Maharaja,” she said, “three women are following our harinama party telling people to throw away our invitations. They’re saying we’re a dangerous cult.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “People won’t take them seriously.”
“But they are,” the devotee said. “Look.”
Glancing to the right I saw the well-dressed women passionately pleading with people to destroy the invitations, and I was shocked to see some people rip them up and throw them to the wind.
Another devotee ran up to me. “Guru Maharaja,” she said, “someone just spat in Bhagavati dasi’s face. What should we do?”
I tried to control my anger. “Tolerate it,” I replied. “It won’t make sense to confront them here on the beach in public. They’ll give up soon. It’s not easy to walk through this crowd on the hot sand. I really don’t think most people will believe them.”
Sure enough, after a few minutes I saw several groups of people arguing with the women. Challenged by the crowd, they gave up and left the beach.
“That’s the best we could hope for,” I said to Gaura Hari. “People are standing up and defending us. How times have changed!”
I was tired, so I sat on the sand and let the harinama party continue. While there I overheard an older man speak to his wife. “Look at those silly people,” he said. “They just sing and dance all day, every day.”
The wife looked up from her newspaper. “If only we could have been so fortunate,” she said.
The man looked down and became silent.
Although I rested twenty minutes, it didn’t take me long to catch up with the harinama party. So many people wanted to take photos with them they’d gone only about fifty meters.
When we came off the beach onto the boardwalk, a young man went up to one of the male devotees. “Can I borrow your clothes?” he said. “I’ve been watching how people like to take photos with all of you. I’d like to wear your clothes and charge people to pose with me. It would help pay for my college tuition.”
After almost a week of chanting and advertising on the beach, the festival day arrived. Because the crew was tired it took them a long time to set up. In fact the event started late. Ordinarily I would be disturbed, but considering how they had set up and broken down almost fifty festivals in a row, I didn’t say anything. Instead I praised them. They were the backbone of our festival, and I let them know it.
As people began arriving I saw a little girl standing alone next to the stage crying. I went up to her, and her mother appeared from nearby. “Is there a problem?” I asked.
“Yes,” the mother said. “My daughter, Agnieszka, is crying because she doesn’t think she’ll win a sari in the dancing contest. We’ve been coming to your festival for four years, and she’s never won.”
“It’s no problem,” I said. “This is our last festival of the year, and we have a few saris left. Come with me, and she can pick one.”
I grabbed Agnieszka’s hand, and with her mother behind us we walked quickly to the fashion tent, where Agnieszka picked out a beautiful and opulent sari. “She has good taste,” her mother said with a smile.
After one of our devotees dressed her in the sari, I had another idea. “I think you need some bangles to match,” I said. So we walked to the jewelry booth, where she picked several bangles, a necklace, and a ring. I also gave her a Krsna doll, a small marble elephant, a cool hat, and a little bag to hold everything.
“Thank you, sir,” she said as we left the tent. “But won’t you get in trouble?”
I smiled. “No,” I said. “I’m the organizer.”
Agnieszka’s mother said she wanted to buy a handbag, so I offered to take her daughter to the face-painting booth. Forty-five minutes later Agnieszka was looking spectacular, her face decorated with gopi-dots and her hands with henna designs.
When her mother returned it was with her husband and another couple. By her husband’s appearance I could immediately understand he was an important person, well dressed and wearing an expensive watch. With a disdainful look on his face, he pulled out his wallet. “How much is this going to cost me?” he asked.
“Nothing, sir,” I said. “It’s our gift to your daughter.”
“Nothing’s free,” he said. “What’s the deal?”
“Honestly,” I said. “We’d just like to see her happy.”
“Well then…,” he started to say something and then stopped. He looked at his daughter dressed so nicely, and he cleared his throat. “I will not forget this, sir,” he said.
Then he motioned to Agnieszka. “Come, let’s go” he said. “It’s time for the puppet show.”
As they walked away I turned to the other couple. “Excuse me,” I said. “Can you tell me who that man is?”
The woman smiled. “You wouldn’t believe us if we told you,” she said.
They hurried to catch up with their friends. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” I thought. “Whoever that gentleman was, someday, somewhere he’ll repay the favor. He’ll help devotees during a time of opposition, assist us in an important project, or maybe rule in our favor in a court of law. Who knows?”
As I walked around the festival site, I passed by the book tent when a man came running out. “Swami,” he said, “would you please sign my Bhagavad-gita.”
I wrote a small note inside the cover. “Have you seen the Gita before?” I said.
“Oh yes,” he replied. “I bought your Gita in 1992 in the south of Poland. I had always been interested in philosophy, but after reading the Gita translated by your spiritual master, I realized there is no philosophy in the world that can compare.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Have you ever visited our temples?” “No,” he replied.
“Do you communicate with devotees?” I said.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “This is only the second time I’ve met you people. The first was when I bought the book. This one’s for a friend.”
“You haven’t seen us since 1992?” I said.
“That’s correct,” he said. “I was really happy when I got an invitation to the festival on the beach today.”
“What do you do for a living?” I asked.
“I’m an artist by profession,” he said. “And I teach the Gita twice a week in my home in Germany. I’ve been doing this since 1993. In my classes I always establish that Krsna is supreme and that all other spiritual paths like yoga, jnana, and brahman realization are inferior to bhakti.”
“I’m amazed,” I said.
“But you know,” he said “the only reason no one has ever defeated me in a philosophical debate is because I know Prabhupada’s Gita by heart. It’s the perfect philosophy.”
Just as we finished our conversation an elderly man came up to me. “I’ve been living across the street for ten years,” he said. “Every summer you people set up your event here, and I’ve been hearing the same song, Hare Krsna, for a decade. I think it’s had an effect on me, so I wanted to ask what it means and what this festival is about. Can you take me around?”
“With pleasure,” I said,
After showing him a few of the tents and exhibits, I took him to the main stage. Tribhuvanesvara das, our master of ceremonies, had invited all the children in the audience onto the stage and was teaching them songs about Krsna. It’s one of the most popular programs at the festival. I counted fifty-four children on the stage. One touching part is when he asks children questions related to the festival.
As my guest and I watched, Tribhuvanesvara turned to a nine-year-old boy. “What did you like most about the festival?” he asked.
“The puppet show,” the boy said.
Then he turned to the boy’s little sister. “What about you?” he asked. “What did you like best?”
“The dancing,” she said.
Then he turned to a four-year-old girl. “And what about you?” he said. “What did you like?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but my grandma wants her money back.” The audience exploded in laughter.
A storm seemed to be coming on the horizon, so Tribhuvanesvara turned to a six-year-old boy. “Do you think it’s going to rain on the festival?” he asked.
“No,” said the boy. “Don’t worry. Those are night clouds.” At the end, he told the children there would be a final song about Krsna. Then he turned to a five-year-old girl. “Do you know what ‘final’ means?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the girl. “’Final’ means you have to leave the zoo before dark. Otherwise, the animals will come out of their cages and eat you.” Again the audience burst into laughter.
Although the children’s program is simple and obviously unrehearsed, it’s crucial to the success of the festival. If the kids love the program, so do their parents. It complies with Srila Prabhupada’s request to “think of novel ways to spread this Krsna consciousness movement.”
As the evening drew to a close I noticed many devotees trying to hide their tears. Men, women, children – everyone was having the same realization: what we loved most was coming to an end.
After living in the joy of sharing Krsna consciousness for so many months, devotees found it difficult to hold their emotions. At one point I, too, started to get teary-eyed, and I went to stand in the shadow of the stage so no one would notice me.
All three hundred of us had served in various ways to bring Krsna consciousness to hundreds of thousands of people, who themselves had appreciated Krsna consciousness in a variety of ways: the adults through cultural performances; the young people through the Bhagavad-gita play, the martial arts, and the yoga classes; the children by dressing-up, wearing gopi-dots, and watching the puppet shows. And everyone, without exception, loved the prasada.
Finally it came time for my lecture. Afraid I might get too emotional in public, I kept it short and called all the devotees onstage for the final kirtana. Immediately all the children ran in front of the stage to dance, the girls hoping to win a sari. When I saw little Agnieszka in her sari, bright-faced and smiling from ear to ear, I waved, and she waved back. Not far behind was her father sitting in the front row. When our eyes met, he nodded and smiled.
“Although we had never met before this afternoon,” I thought, “we now have a bond of affection that no doubt will manifest in a most wonderful way one day. What is this miracle of Krsna consciousness?”
As I started the kirtana I could see six hundred people still sitting in the audience. I could hardly control myself, so I closed my eyes for the first ten minutes. When I opened them I was surprised to see that many of the parents had left the benches and joined the kirtana. It had never happened before. Then as I looked at the crowd I suddenly realized this was the spot where sixteen years ago we held our first outdoor event.
In the summer of 1993 we did a harinama on the beach in Kolobrzeg to advertise a hall program. As we were coming off the beach we stopped on the boardwalk, the place where we were now chanting, and a crowd of four hundred people gathered. Spontaneously we did the Ramayana play, a bharata-natyam dance, and a lecture, and we passed out sweets. The crowd wanted more, so we had kirtana until dark. When we got back to our base we decided to start doing outdoor events. At the next festival in the park of a nearby town we drew a crowd of three thousand.
As I stared at the spot where our festival was born, I was amazed to think how much the festival had changed, how everything had expanded beyond what I could have imagined. One thing, however, remained the same, and that was the people. From the very beginning they had shown a keen interest, and they’d been coming in droves for twenty years. Without them, our festivals would have no meaning. As I sang the final refrain of the mahamantra, I paid obeisances in my mind to my spiritual master, the previous acaryas, the holy names, and the devotees on the tour. And to each and every soul who had come to our events.
When the kirtana ended, no one moved and no one said a thing. Our festivals – our life and soul – had ended. All of us shared the same painful thought: we would have to wait a whole year before we would again see the Baltic coast reverberating with the sweet chanting of the holy names.
As we walked back in silence to our buses I had a realization: “This must be what it was like in the world after Lord Caitanya left and the chanting of the holy names subsided. We are blessed to experience these emotions. As immature as we are in devotion, these sentiments are leading us in the right direction.”
abhivyakto yatra druta kanakagauro harirabhun
mahimna tasyaiva pranayarasamagnam jagadabhut
abhuduccairuccaistumulahari sankirtana vidhih
sa kalah kim bhuyo’pyahaha parivartteta madhurah
When Sri Gaura Hari was visible in this world, resplendent with the luster of molten gold, the entire universe was immersed in the mellows of loving affection for Sri Krsna by His divine inspiration. Then the order of the day was the sublime process of tumultuous chanting of the holy names of the Lord. Alas! Will those sweet days ever return?
[Prabhodhananda Sarasvati, Sri Caitanya Candramrita, text 139]